The San Francisco 49ers report for training camp on July 25, and with time ticking down, we’re back for our annual roster ranking feature. The past two years, we’ve put together a consensus ranking of the 49ers 90-man roster. It includes ranking from myself and other Niners Nation staff. A year ago, we put together a consensus ranking of the 49ers 90-man roster. It included rankings from myself and 12 of our writers. You can look at last year’s full rankings here.
This year, we’ve got 18 people voting. Since this is entirely subjective, I did not provide a specific framework for voting. I could have said “the best,” or “the most important,” or a whole host of other possible ideas. The Instead, I just told people to rank the 90-man roster heading into 2018. It’s not an exact science, but none of this is!
Thanks to Greg Valerio, Oscar Aparicio, Tracy Sandler, James Brady, Jennifer Chan, Pat Holloway, Steve Busichio, Scott Geelan, Mark Saltveit, TryAndCatchVD, Joe The Wizard, Scott Geelan, Josh Eccles, Josh Cootner, ak4niner, El Shorts, Alex Eisen, and Akash, Anavarathan.
I’ve included the high and low ranking for each player, and then also my own ranking. On to spots 11-20!
20. Matt Breida, RB (High: 18, Low: 37, Fooch: 20)
The 49ers did not attempt to re-sign Carlos Hyde, but instead replaced him atop the depth chart with Jerick McKinnon. The team welcomes back Joe Williams to compete for an opportunity, but Breida likely holds the edge for the No. 2 spot. Last season, Breida rushed for 465 yards (4.4 ypc) and caught 21 passes for 180 yards. McKinnon will be the lead back, but I suspect his work in the pass game results in more rushing attempts for Breida.
19. Jimmie Ward, DB (High: 7, Low: 44, Fooch: 18)
Ward is entering the fifth year option of his rookie contract, and once again is changing positions. He was the 49ers’ nickel back his first two seasons, then traditional boundary corner for a season, and then free safety last year. This year, he is moving back to boundary corner, competing with Ahkello Witherspoon, Richard Sherman, Tarvarius Moore, and others for an opportunity. The team wanted him to focus on cornerback in the offseason workout program, but I still see him ending up in a super sub role at most of the secondary positions.
18. Trent Taylor, WR (High: 10, Low: 31, Fooch: 19)
The 49ers spent a fifth round pick on Taylor last year, and the decision paid immediate dividends. Taylor emerged as a solid slot receiver, particularly as a third down weapon. Dante Pettis is the most notable receiver addition this year, and while he is not a slot receiver (although he can play the role), I am curious to see how his addition impacts Taylor’s work load. Pettis coupled with Pierre Garçon’s return from injury and Kendrick Bourne’s solid finish to last season could make it difficult to get all the pass catchers the targets they might want.
17. Arik Armstead, DL (High: 10, Low: 28, Fooch: 16)
I would argue he is one of the most important players on the 49ers roster this year. When healthy, Armstead has been among the leaders in PFF’s pass rush efficiency stat. The problem is health. A shoulder injury in 2016 and a broken hand in 2017 have cost him 18 games the past two seasons. The 49ers exercised his fifth year option, but given that it’s not fully guaranteed, this year is huge for him and the help he can bring DeForest Buckner in the pass rush.
16. Solomon Thomas, DL (High: 6, Low: 31, Fooch: 15)
It’s fitting Thomas and Armstead are right next to each other. A year after Armstead played the LEO role and Thomas played the big end in the team’s base defense, they are switching sides. The bigger question will be how much work he gets inside where he was more effective in college.
15. George Kittle, TE (High: 7, Low: 22, Fooch: 11)
Much like Taylor, the 49ers got a solid rookie season out of this fifth round pick. He was second on the team in receiving, even amidst an assortment of injuries. He missed one game, but injuries resulted in his swapping spots on the depth chart with Garrett Celek at times. If he can stay healthy this season, look for Kittle to firmly secure the top tight end role.
14. Mike McGlinchey, OT (High: 5, Low: 32, Fooch: 17)
The 49ers entered the 2018 NFL Draft with several needs, but they decided to solidify their offensive line bookends in the first round. They drafted McGlinchey and then proceeded to trade Trent Brown. McGlinchey could eventually move to left tackle, but for the time being, he and Joe Staley will operate on each end. Brown was incredibly talented, but weight, conditioning, and questions of commitment were always hanging over him. Ideally, McGlinchey will be someone they just slot in and effectively forget about.
13. Adrian Colbert, FS (High: 7, Low: 22, Fooch: 13)
Colbert represents the biggest year-one return on investment for the 49ers 2017 draft class. The seventh round pick was primarily a special teams player for the first six weeks of the season, but in Week 7 he started getting safety work. By Week 10, injuries had moved him into the starting lineup, and he enters 2018 training camp as the clear starter at free safety.
12. Ahkello Witherspoon, CB (High: 6, Low: 17, Fooch: 14)
Another strong return from the 2017 class, Witherspoon claimed a starting role by Week 8. He will be one of the 49ers starters this fall, but the big story for him was the addition of Richard Sherman in free agency. If healthy, Sherman would be starting opposite Witherspoon, but more important is the mentorship Sherman brings. He has served as a coach on the field, and invited Witherspoon to his cornerback summit this summer. This signing could be as big for Witherspoon’s future as anything else.
11. Jaquiski Tartt, SS (High: 3, Low: 31, Fooch: 7)
Tartt entered his third season finally getting a chance to start. He opened at free safety, but an Eric Reid injury moved him to strong safety. He bounced back to free safety at one point before finishing the season on injured reserve. Entering the final year of his contract, Tartt and the 49ers agreed to terms on a two-year extension. He will start at strong safety following the emergence of Adrian Colbert as the 49ers figure out just what their defensive backfield might look like for the future.